Andrew Liptak on 18 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Read in February

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Tarnished City Vic James-small The Gone World Tom Sweterlitsch-small Echoes of Understorey by Thoraiya Dyer-small

Andrew Liptak’s February book selections give you a nice opportunity to be an armchair tourist in some pretty exotic locales (“Visit distant planets, conspiracies, and galactic conflicts!”)

Just as important for diligent book fans, Andrew catches us up with some of the more intriguing ongoing fantasy series. So without further ado, let’s see what he has for us this month.

Tarnished City by Vic James ( Del Rey, 416 pages, $25 in hardcover/$10.99 digital, February 6, 2018)

Vic James began her career last year with The Gilded Cage, in which the world belongs to a class of gifted magical aristocrats. In the next installment of her Dark Gifts trilogy, an uprising has been crushed, and protagonist Abi Hadley’s brother Luke has been framed for the murder of Parliament’s Chancellor Zelston. She goes into hiding, and after her brother is condemned to a remote estate, she hatches a plan to save him. Publisher’s Weekly says that readers will “appreciate the multifaceted complexity of James’s world and its lively, determined characters.”

We covered the opening volume, Gilded Cage, back in April.

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Greco-Roman Treasures in the Egyptian Museum

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Mummy portrait from the 2nd century AD
of two brothers who appear to have died together

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is an addictive place. On my two writing retreats in Egypt last year I found myself returning again and again. The collections are so vast, the displays so stunning, that no matter how many times you go you always find something that bowls you over.

Much of the museum is laid out chronologically, from the predynastic era all the way up to the Greco-Roman period (332 BC – 395 AD). This last period of ancient Egypt is often overlooked except for the famous mummy portraits like the one pictured above, lifelike paintings of the deceased. The rest of the art from this time is less compelling. Some of it is overdone, almost cartoonish, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Here’s a small sample of what the museum had to offer.

I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. The Egyptian Museum is poorly lit and many of the cases are dirty, making good photography difficult. Hope you enjoy them anyway!

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Vintage Treasures: Dark is the Sun by Philip Jose Farmer

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Dark is the Sun Philip Jose Farmer-small Dark is the Sun Philip Jose Farmer-back-small

The first Philip Jose Farmer book I ever read was To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971), the Hugo-Award winning first novel in his famous Riverworld series. Today he’s just as well known for his World of Tiers, Dayworld, and Tarzan novels, among many other other popular series. Farmer was famously prolific, and he kept at it right until the very end, when he died in 2009 at the age of 91.

I have more than a few Philip Jose Farmer books in my to-be-read pile. But the oldest, way down in the stratified layers near the floor, I bought back in 1980 . Dark is the Sun, one of his lesser known novels, is a far-future science fiction tale that reads like epic fantasy, and the classic Darrell K. Sweet cover certainly reinforced that. There are witches, thieves, gigantic walking skeletons, mobile plants, magic eggs, haunted jungles, and the threat of a collapsing universe… if you wanted to market a novel to a million young D&D players in the early 80s, you could have done a lot worse.

Dark is the Sun reminds me of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, with its fifteen-billion-years hence setting; the 1982 British paperback edition from Panther, to my mind, rather resembled Brian Aldiss’ far-future classic Hothouse (see below).

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Birthday Reviews: Stephen Goldin’s “The Last Ghost”

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Protostars-small Protostars-back-small

Cover by Gene Szafran

Stephen Goldin was born on February 28, 1947. Prior to becoming a science fiction author, Goldin earned a degree in astronomy and worked as a civilian space scientist for the US Navy.

Beginning in 1976, Goldin wrote the Family d’Alembert novels, based on a novella by E.E. “Doc” Smith. He followed that series up with the Parsina Saga and wrote the two volume Rehumanization of Jade Darcy series in collaboration with his second wife, Mary Mason.

He co-edited the anthology Protostars with David Gerrold and edited the anthology The Alien Condition solo. Goldin also collaborated with his first wife, Kathleen Sky, on both fiction and non-fiction. He received a Nebula nomination for his short story “The Last Ghost” in 1972.

“The Last Ghost” originally appeared in the 1971 anthology Protostars, edited by David Gerrold and Stephen Goldin. Lloyd Biggle, Jr. reprinted it in Nebula Award Stories Seven. Goldin included it in two of his collections, The Last Ghost and Other Stories and Ghosts, Girls, & Other Phantasms. It has been translated into French twice and German twice.

Goldin looks at a distant future in which immorality of a sort has been achieved by downloading people’s consciousness into machines. His two characters, which he arbitrarily designates as male and female, have both been downloaded into a computer for several thousand years.

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A Demanding Work that Sings all the Stronger in 2018: The Queen of Air and Darkness by T.H. White

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 | Posted by markrigney

The Witch in the Wood-small The Witch in the Wood-back-small

In my early teens, I discovered and devoured T.H. White’s omnibus quartet of novels, The Once and Future King. The first and most child-like remains the best known: The Sword in the Stone. After this, and unjustly neglected (by Disney and the world in general), come The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle In the Wind.

In my later teen years, I concluded that The Once and Future King, taken as a whole, was the single best novel I had ever read. Having reached the ripe old age of fifty, it’s time to re-evaluate. Is White’s work still worth its weight in gold?

Perhaps you recall Book One, in which the young King Arthur, known affectionately as the Wart, meets Merlyn, gambols through a lifetime’s worth of transformational adventures, and draws a certain sword from a stone. Hysterically funny, dreamy and given to long flights of fancy about hawks and birds, The Once and Future King still works genuine magic, even when its digressions and mood swings threaten to topple the whole everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink mess into a stew of narrative anarchy.

In short, it’s a full meal and then some, and I, along with fantasy lovers the world over, adore it still. (Ursula K. LeGuin, R.I.P., lent her opinion to one edition’s jacket copy, saying, “I have laughed at White’s great Arthurian novel and cried over it and loved it all my life.”) Yet, many seem unaware that the cycle, tracing Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, continues.

Book Two began life as The Witch in the Wood, and arrived in print in 1939, just as the world fell off a precipice it hadn’t seen coming, and descended into a darkness from which it is still fighting to recover. Revised and expanded, The Witch in the Wood became The Queen of Air and Darkness, and no book better upholds the argument for valuing a work as the sum of its discordant parts.

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New Treasures: The Throne of Amenkor by Joshua Palmatier

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Throne of Amenkor Joshua Palmatier DAW-small The Throne of Amenkor Joshua Palmatier DAW-back-small

Joshua Palmatier is a high-energy guy. I wrote about his science fictional Ley Trilogy last year, and I backed his 2017 Kickstarter for the Guilds & Glaives anthology because it contains stories by no less than four Black Gate authors: David B. Coe, James Enge, Howard Andrew Jones, and Violette Malan.

That ought to be enough from one guy to satisfy even the most demanding readers. So I was surprised to find a fat 840-page volume from Palmatier during my last trip to Barnes & Noble: The Throne of Amenkor. It turns out to be an omnibus reprint collecting three of his early fantasy novels:

The Shewed Throne (384 pages, $8.99 in paperback, January 3, 2006)
The Cracked Throne (400 pages, $7.99 in paperback, November 7, 2006)
The Vacant Throne (480 pages, $8.99 in paperback, January 2, 2008)

All three were published in hardcover by DAW, and are still in print in mass market paperback a decade later — an impressive feat. K. Tang and Charlene Brusso reviewed them enthusiastically for Black Gate, but I never had the chance to enjoy them myself. I already have a handful of Joshua Palmatier novels sitting on my nightstand, and an anthology on the way, but I’m a sucker for these big omnibus editions from DAW and I ended up bringing The Throne of Amenkor home with me anyway.

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

A Wrinkle in Time-smallGiven to me by the same friend who told me about A Wizard of Earthsea, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962) is another of the books that introduced me to fantasy and science fiction. The novel is a mix of science fiction, fantasy, and good dose of Christianity, and is completely unbound by any rules or expectations about genre. A children’s book, it is also an artifact of a time when fantasy wasn’t primarily a commercial designation. There’s a freshness to the book all these years later, and rereading it was an absolute joy.

Meg Murry is the fourteen-year-old daughter of scientists, and sister to twins Sandy and Denys and the strange, brilliant five-year-old Charles Wallace. Her father, employed by the government, has been missing for some time before the book’s opening, and there has been no word about what happened to him.

In her own eyes Meg is gawky and ugly, made so by her “mouse-brown” hair, glasses, and “teeth covered with braces.” Her self-impression and her worry over her father’s disappearance have caused her to become a poor student. Her principal, a man unsympathetic to her worry to the point of telling her she needs to “face the facts” about her father (implying he’s never returning), warns her she’s in danger of having to repeat ninth grade.

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Birthday Reviews: Michael A. Burstein’s “Reality Check”

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Kim Poor

Cover by Kim Poor

Michael A. Burstein was born on February 27, 1970. Burstein is an Orthodox Jew and many of his stories are informed by this background, from the main character of “Reality Check” to the entire story “Kaddish for the Last Survivor.”

Much of his short fiction is gathered in the collection I Remember the Future: The Award-Nominated Stories of Michael A. Burstein. His debut story “TeleAbsence” won the Analog Readers Poll and the Science Fiction Chronicle Readers Poll. His later novella “Sanctuary,” also won the Anlab poll. Burstein won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1997.

“Reality Check” was first published in Analog’s November 1999 issue, purchased by Stanley Schmidt. It was reprinted in Burstein’s collection I Remember the Future and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novella and shortlisted for the Theodore Sturgeon Award.

Michael Burstein’s four linked stories, “Broken Symmetry,” “Absent Friends,” “Reality Check,” and “Empty Spaces,” deal with parallel universes linked together through a Superconducting Supercollider. Although “Reality Check” is the third in the sequence and refers to the subject of “Absent Friends,” it requires no knowledge of the previous story to enjoy it (although the four appear sequentially in I Remember the Future).

David Strock is a theoretical physicist specializing in low energy research. When one of his papers gains the attention of a government facility in Texas, he is invited to see the classified work they are doing. Despite his better judgment, and the desires of his wife, he visits them and decides to take a temporary appointment to work on the secret project, offering him the chance to collaborate with another universe. Strock tries to balance his research and time in Texas with his home life in Boston, although the strife in Boston seems to be worse than Burstein shows.

When Strock meets a woman who reveals that he has a near doppelganger on the other side, his interest is further piqued in the project, although he tries to point out to her that he is not the person she has heard about from the other universe. In the end, Burstein successfully ties together disparate scenes of Strock’s home-life, his lunches at MIT with a graduate student, his doppelganger, and the research he was conducting.

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Tell Me A Story: UnSpoiled

Monday, February 26th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

Unspoiled Podcast

Full disclosure: I’m a little biased on this week’s podcast choice. I first discovered UnSpoiled when my friend, Maggie, was covering Stranger Things with network runner Natasha. In my defense, I’ve got a lot of friends whose podcasts will never be discussed here.

UnSpoiled” has become one of my favorite podcasts: the one I’ll drop everything for. A fandom and analysis podcast, UnSpoiled covers a broad variety of material, but always with the same concept and format: there are two people discussing the work in question. One of them is completely familiar with the material, and one of them is coming to it for the first time, completely unspoiled. They go through one episode, chapter, or movie at a time, discussing the themes and artistry involved.

And it is really good.

Listening to other people talk about Fantasy and Sci-Fi is always a dicey proposition. It can be dull. It can be annoying. But it can also be amazing, and some of my favorite podcasts fit under this umbrella. (West Wing Weekly is a solid standout here, as is The Greatest Generation, which is working it’s way through Star Trek: The Next Generation one episode at a time.) What makes the UnSpoiled family of podcasts great is their choice of hosts and material. Natasha Winters, the founder and editor of UnSpoiled, is a smart and insightful reader. She has the kind of keen eye for human nature that makes for sharp assessments of story, and a true compassion for human foibles that make for both a solid sense of humor and a good base for criticism.

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Future Treasures: Dayfall by Michael David Ares

Monday, February 26th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Dayfall Michael David Ares-smallReading between the lines of Michael David Ares’ bio, it sounds like he’s a successful ghostwriter who is finally striking out with a novel of his own. Dayfall has a distinct Blade Runner vibe, and in fact Tor is strongly playing up that angle. The preliminary cover design (right) has a cover blurb from KW Jeter, while the final copy I currently hold in my hot little hands uses the same blurb, but prominently credits Jeter as the author of Blade Runner: Replicant Night. On the back cover is the following quote from Amy Lignor, author of Tallent & Lowery:

A novel that brings Blade Runner to mind. Dayfall is strong, intense and beyond memorable.

The comparison to Blade Runner seems apt enough, I suppose, although Dayfall has its own unique premise. Here’s the description.


In the near future, patches of the northern hemisphere have been shrouded in years of darkness from a nuclear winter, and the water level has risen in the North Atlantic. The island of Manhattan has lost its outer edges to flooding and is now ringed by a large seawall.

The darkness and isolation have allowed crime and sin to thrive in the never-ending shadows of the once great city, and when the sun finally begins to reappear, everything gets worse. A serial killer cuts a bloody swath across the city during the initial periods of daylight, and a violent panic sweeps through crowds on the streets. The Manhattan police, riddled with corruption and apathy, are at a loss.

That’s when the Mayor recruits Jon Phillips, a small-town Pennsylvania cop who had just single-handedly stopped a high-profile serial killer in his own area, and flies him into the insanity of this new New York City. The young detective is partnered with a shady older cop and begins to investigate the crimes amidst the vagaries of a twenty-four hour nightlife he has never experienced before. Soon realizing that he was chosen for reasons other than what he was told, Jon is left with no one to trust and forced to go on the run in the dark streets, and below them in the maze of the underground. Against all odds he still hopes that he can save his own life, the woman of his dreams, and maybe even the whole city before the arrival of the mysterious and dreaded event that has come to be known as…. DAYFALL.

Dayfall will be published by Tor Books on March 13, 2018. It is 286 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $13.99 for the digital version. The cover is by Paul Youll. Read the complete first chapter here.

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